April is Stress Awareness Month, and we want to talk about the effect stress has on your ears and hearing.

The past year has been incredibly stressful for lots of us for many reasons. To make matters worse we haven’t been able to do lots of things we usually do to unwind and relax. A session at the gym after work, meeting up with friends, holidays the list goes on. We’ve been forced to find new ways to tackle stress whether that’s a long walk, discovering a new hobby or watching an entire Netflix series in one sitting (we’re not judging).

So, what is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It’s really common and can help to motivate us to achieve things in our work and home life. But too much stress can affect our mood, body and relationships. Experiencing stress for a long period of time can lead to a feeling of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. 

What does stress have to do with my ears?

Tinnitus is a common condition with 1 in 8 people in the UK living with persistent tinnitus. If you have a higher level of stress you are more likely to be troubled by your tinnitus. According to the British Tinnitus Association, “Although it is not always clear whether stress causes the onset of tinnitus, or perhaps is a contributing factor, it is common for tinnitus to start at times of high stress or after a period of stress. It is also common for existing tinnitus to become worse during periods of high stress. For some people, tinnitus acts as their ‘barometer’ of stress, often worsening when there are difficult things going on in life. Of course, the worsening of tinnitus when you are already feeling stressed can add another burden, and lead to a ‘vicious cycle’ as each stress influences the other.” 

Is there anything I can do about it?  

Yes! Although there is no cure for tinnitus there are ways to manage both tinnitus and stress.

Thoughts

Understanding your thoughts and becoming aware of particular situations when your tinnitus is distressing. Writing down what goes through your mind at that time may be helpful. The BTA suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • What tells you that the thought is true – what evidence supports the idea?
  • Is there anything that tells you it is not true – what evidence do you have against it?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • If a friend asked you for help about the same problem what would you say to them?
  • What would a friend say to you?

By changing the messages, you tell yourself about tinnitus such as reminding yourself it isn’t dangerous and you can still enjoy life, you may be able to reduce the impact on your life. 

Physical Reactions

Relaxation can be used as a way of dealing with physical reactions associated with stress. The BTA have some helpful tips on relaxation on their website which can be found here – https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/relaxation

Behaviour – some people find that changes in their behaviour can help them to manage their tinnitus as they can focus their attention on an interesting activity or hobby. The BTA suggests:

  • Exercise – appropriate to your fitness level
  • Making time for yourself
  • Spending time doing enjoyable activities and socialising
  • Problem solving or changing things in your life that cause you stress, if this is possible
  • Talking to supportive people, either friends and family or a counsellor or psychologist

Behaviour

Some people find that changes in their behaviour can help them to manage their tinnitus as they can focus their attention on an interesting activity or hobby. The BTA suggests:

  • Exercise – appropriate to your fitness level
  • Making time for yourself
  • Spending time doing enjoyable activities and socialising
  • Problem solving or changing things in your life that cause you stress, if this is possible
  • Talking to supportive people, either friends and family or a counsellor or psychologist.

It’s important to note that if you feel your tinnitus has worsened and you are struggling to cope you should contact your GP for support. The British Tinnitus Association has a freephone helpline, online chat, email and text support available. There are also online support groups available through the BTA website as well as information for those supporting someone with tinnitus. www.tinnitus.org.uk/helpline  

Sources:
https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/tinnitus-and-stress?gclid=Cj0KCQjwmIuDBhDXARIsAFITC_60yv9CtmnUfQ9GRknPHmd7TSlzeH9vH4wMunO9zP9Q5s3VZ9FYZHwaAjQKEALw_wcB

https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/stress/#:~:text=Stress%20is%20the%20body’s%20reaction,home%2C%20work%20and%20family%20life.